Using real names, permission?

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sommemi

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I am positive this has been discussed before, but it has been AGES since I have been out here. (Life gets in the way)

Could someone share with me any existing threads that discuss what the legal policies are when you mention someone's REAL name in a book?

My situation: self-publishing my Dad's memoirs and I want to ensure that I retain the integrity of his stories accurately, which means I am keeping real names.

Are there legal ramifications to doing this?
What about businesses, places, movies....?

Thank you for any searching help!
 

Siri Kirpal

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Sat Nam! (literally "Truth Name"--a Sikh greeting)

Get permission of everyone who's alive. If they aren't alive, get permission from next of kin, if possible. If you are using someone else's material, you need their permission in writing. Get all permissions in writing if possible.

However, IANAL. (I am not a lawyer.) If you think there might be legal issues, run it by a lawyer.

The old threads, by the way, are down in the basement somewhere.

Blessings,

Siri Kirpal
 

sommemi

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I'm gonna do my best, really, but some of these people I have never met, and don't know if he spelled their name right, and I don't know if they are alive or even what country they might live in!
For example... my Dad tells a story of a woman who worked in a bakery with him in California (I'm in Ohio) back in 1948 I think who was named "Fitzi VanDerduesen" who I am guessing was originally from another country.

....WTH? I don't even know the first place to look besides facebook! Feeling very overwhelmed at this task. There are like 50 people listed in this book.
 

frimble3

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Well, if you're not really sure of some of the names, or how they're spelled, or anything about them except the one story of your father's that they appeared in, why not change the names, or omit them? At least of the people you're not sure of, or whose names aren't really important to the story? If you want to maintain the 'feel' of your father's voice, you might prefer to use a name, rather than 'the woman in the bakery', use a random, placeholder kind of name. Maybe allude to it in the story:
'I once worked with this woman, let's call her Mabel, who...' . I can't see that there's any need to use her full name, unless that's the point of the story for some reason.
IANAL, but I've seen a lot of those little 'names have been changed to protect the innocent/for privacy/etc' disclaimers in books and magazines.
 

Siri Kirpal

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Sat Nam! (literally "Truth Name"--a Sikh greeting)

Yes, in that case, there's no reason not to change the name or use a placeholder. When you're not sure, just let the name go...unless it's important to the story. "This woman I used to work with in the bakery..." should be just fine.

Blessings,

Siri Kirpal
 

sommemi

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In a few cases, it is actually a historical story, explaining the history of the town and area where he grew up. Such as in regards to the "Fahrny Farm".
Another case is where there are people he mentioned that we are teammates with, but I'm not sure how to get in touch with them anymore, but there are tons of people in my skating community (we are speed skaters) who know these people by name and remember them but they are kind of 'where are they now' kind of people. The significance of the real name adds to the story.
In cases where it is family members, I'm sure I would have no problem getting permission.
In one particular case, the name itself is actually part of what makes the story so endearing... "Fitzi Vanderduesen" It's a name that has personality to it before you even hear the story, and is how we have known the story told for ages.
Another story talks about a famous Derby skater that was close friends of my father's, and you can find her in many google searches, but getting in touch with her or her family personally has been a struggle. (Joan Kazmerski)

I think there is only perhaps one or two stories where anything might have been said that would be considered uncomplimentary, and I could probably do "let's call her Jane..." in those instances. But the others... it just takes away from the impact of the story.

The hard part, is that these are stories that, as a family, we are trying to preserve to be handed down. Originally it was meant to be just to document for us. Then there were so many others who knew him and loved his stories in our skating community that wanted to hear the story, and it spread and many people would say "let me know when it's published so I can get a copy too!" Of course I can't afford to print that many copies myself, but a lot of people want to hear these stories for the simple fact that they know everyone who is in the book.

Does that make sense? That's why I HATE to change any names.
 

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I am positive this has been discussed before, but it has been AGES since I have been out here. (Life gets in the way)

Could someone share with me any existing threads that discuss what the legal policies are when you mention someone's REAL name in a book?

My situation: self-publishing my Dad's memoirs and I want to ensure that I retain the integrity of his stories accurately, which means I am keeping real names.

Are there legal ramifications to doing this?
What about businesses, places, movies....?

Thank you for any searching help!


Libel law covers you if the story is demonstrably true. Period; but not quite full-stop.

Even though you might be covered by libel protections, that doesn't mean you're safe. If someone gets pissed about what you wrote - even if it's completely true - there's nothing stopping them from suing you, and even if you win that suit, you're looking at thousands upon thousands of dollars in legal fees.

So the bottom line is this: Always get permission from non-public-figure people when you use their names or readily identifiable details about them in your book.

Same for businesses, places and movies. If you're not worried about paying a lawyer to fight a frivolous lawsuit, then throw them all in there. Otherwise, think twice.
 

Brock Landers

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Funny that I saw this thread, because my best friend and I actually just had a laugh today about something that happened to me in college regarding this topic. I wrote a short(ish) story for a creative writing class about a comedic incident involving a girl that I had just broken up with. My professor ended up passing it around to some other professors and it ended up getting published in the school lit magazine and then in a lit magazine in the town that my college was located in, and I ended up getting a little bit of money for it. Anyway, it painted a very...negative picture of this young lady and however mad she was when she first read it in the campus lit magazine, she was ten times that when she found out I got paid for writing it. Luckily, while I was writing it a little voice in my head told me to alter her name just enough so that everyone on campus would know who I was talking about, but I wouldn't technically be talking about her. I won't use her real name here, but it was literally the equivalent of changing "Ali Williams" to "Ally Williamson". Long story short, this asinine, transparent action ended up saving me a few hundred bucks.

So I guess I would say just alter their names a little. Keep it true, but not true. To quote Big Pussy in the Sopranos, "They know...but they don't know."
 

cornflake

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Doing that kind of thing isn't a defense against anything. If someone is recognizable to a reasonable person, the same issues apply. Changing names is meaningless.
 

Old Hack

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Funny that I saw this thread, because my best friend and I actually just had a laugh today about something that happened to me in college regarding this topic. I wrote a short(ish) story for a creative writing class about a comedic incident involving a girl that I had just broken up with. My professor ended up passing it around to some other professors and it ended up getting published in the school lit magazine and then in a lit magazine in the town that my college was located in, and I ended up getting a little bit of money for it. Anyway, it painted a very...negative picture of this young lady and however mad she was when she first read it in the campus lit magazine, she was ten times that when she found out I got paid for writing it. Luckily, while I was writing it a little voice in my head told me to alter her name just enough so that everyone on campus would know who I was talking about, but I wouldn't technically be talking about her. I won't use her real name here, but it was literally the equivalent of changing "Ali Williams" to "Ally Williamson". Long story short, this asinine, transparent action ended up saving me a few hundred bucks.

So I guess I would say just alter their names a little. Keep it true, but not true. To quote Big Pussy in the Sopranos, "They know...but they don't know."

Seconding cornflake's comment.

Changing someone's name gives you no protection from libel. If they're recognisable in your work then you're stuffed. And if you're telling a specific anecdote in which they feature, then of course they're going to be recognisable. Your only choices are to not publish, or publish and take the consequences. But don't assume that changing the spelling of their name will protect you one bit: it won't.

Further, it's inappropriate to write something "comic" about someone and not let them know it's being published--especially if you think they're likely to be upset by what you've written. To change that person's name to protect yourself from action while ensuring "everyone on campus would know who I was talking about" seems particularly unpleasant: why hold anyone up for ridicule in this way? It's unkind, and unnecessary. We should try to be better than this.
 

Brock Landers

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Seconding cornflake's comment.

Changing someone's name gives you no protection from libel. If they're recognisable in your work then you're stuffed. And if you're telling a specific anecdote in which they feature, then of course they're going to be recognisable. Your only choices are to not publish, or publish and take the consequences. But don't assume that changing the spelling of their name will protect you one bit: it won't.

Further, it's inappropriate to write something "comic" about someone and not let them know it's being published--especially if you think they're likely to be upset by what you've written. To change that person's name to protect yourself from action while ensuring "everyone on campus would know who I was talking about" seems particularly unpleasant: why hold anyone up for ridicule in this way? It's unkind, and unnecessary. We should try to be better than this.

Well, as I said in my post, this is something that actually happened to me. I don't mean to step on your toes, but you are absolutely wrong. In this case, changing this person's name did cover my ass. Speaking from actual experience, it doesn't matter if the whole world knows who you're talking about. As long as there's plausible deniability on your (the writer's) behalf, you're in the clear. Sure, it gets a little shady from a moral perspective, but if you're not the type of person to be bothered by such things, then you really have nothing to worry about. Using the generic disclaimer "The following is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to persons living or dead is purely coincidental" after the title page in your work will also go light years in covering your ass, should you ever need it to be covered. ;)
 
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Cyia

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Well, as I said in my post, this is something that actually happened to me. I don't mean to step on your toes, but you are absolutely wrong. In this case, changing this person's name did cover my ass. Speaking from actual experience, it doesn't matter if the whole world knows who you're talking about. As long as there's plausible deniability on your (the writer's) behalf, you're in the clear.

Actually, you're the one who's wrong. Discernible characters designed to mimic real people in appearance and action have resulted in successful legal action being carried out against the writer.

"Based on" characters, where a few traits make it into the mix or get blended with traits from others is one thing, but if you take your neighbor who lives in a pink house with a pink poodle and always wears a pink Jackie O. suit while singing drunk as she vacuums her lawn and simply change her name to Trudy from Matilda, you're not covered at all.
 

CassandraW

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Brock, fyi, Old Hack has some pretty considerable experience in the publishing industry. Also, I'm a lawyer, and agree with what she said.

Perhaps you didn't have anyone sue you. That's great, but consider that perhaps you were just lucky.

eta:

In another thread, you note that you are in your early twenties and working on your first novel. in what context did this "actually happen to you"?

Eta:

Wait -- you mean your college lit journal thing?

One young college student didn't sue you for some story you wrote that got very limited local circulation. This is not a basis for contradicting Old Hack's far greater experience and knowledge.

Be aware that circumstances can differ greatly when the story gets more renowned and/or the victim gets more savvy.
 
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Well, as I said in my post, this is something that actually happened to me. I don't mean to step on your toes, but you are absolutely wrong. In this case, changing this person's name did cover my ass. Speaking from actual experience, it doesn't matter if the whole world knows who you're talking about. As long as there's plausible deniability on your (the writer's) behalf, you're in the clear. Sure, it gets a little shady from a moral perspective, but if you're not the type of person to be bothered by such things, then you really have nothing to worry about. Using the generic disclaimer "The following is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to persons living or dead is purely coincidental" after the title page in your work will also go light years in covering your ass, should you ever need it to be covered. ;)

Plausible deniability does little for you if you're sued.

Plausible deniability doesn't convince a judge and jury.

Plausible deniability means you could still pay court costs even if you win.

The reason for that boilerplate is because law suits are so common. Google iibel in fiction and defamation in fiction.

http://www.copylaw.org/p/libel-in-fiction.html
 
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Old Hack

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Well, as I said in my post, this is something that actually happened to me.

Nevertheless, you still can't write about it and expect to be safe from litigation.

I don't mean to step on your toes, but you are absolutely wrong.

No, I am absolutely not. As for my toes? I felt nothing at all.

In this case, changing this person's name did cover my ass.

It might well have done: but if you'd been facing real-big-world litigation it wouldn't have had any effect at all. You were lucky: your ex didn't take good advice, and backed down.

Speaking from actual experience, it doesn't matter if the whole world knows who you're talking about. As long as there's plausible deniability on your (the writer's) behalf, you're in the clear.

I am also speaking from actual experience.

My actual experience has been gained by working for over thirty years in publishing. I've worked for most of the big trade publishing groups, in the UK, the USA, Canada, Australia and many of the European countries. I've also had over forty books published, a few of which have been best sellers; I've written for most of the UK's national press, many of its glossies, and loads of local presses and niche interest publications. I've won over thirty prizes for my short fiction and poetry. And I've been involved in several plagiarism and libel cases and speak from real, actual, and very expensive experience when I say that changing someone's name won't do squat if you're taken to court for the things you wrote about that living, breathing person.

Sure, it gets a little shady from a moral perspective, but if you're not the type of person to be bothered by such things, then you really have nothing to worry about.

It's very shady from a moral perspective. I am the type of person who is bothered by those things. And I'm saddened that you think that betraying someone in this way is "nothing to worry about".

Using the generic disclaimer "The following is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to persons living or dead is purely coincidental" after the title page in your work will also go light years in covering your ass, should you ever need it to be covered. ;)

A disclaimer like that does bugger all if your story is based on fact.

Please don't give out legal advice like this unless you're qualified in the legal field, and are prepared to take responsibility for any damages which might be incurred if anyone takes your advice and gets sued. Really.
 

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Well, as I said in my post, this is something that actually happened to me. I don't mean to step on your toes, but you are absolutely wrong. In this case, changing this person's name did cover my ass. Did she sue you, lose and have to pay your legal costs? If not, it didn't cover your ass, because she absolutely could have sued you and won, based on your description of events and what you did. Speaking from actual experience, it doesn't matter if the whole world knows who you're talking about. It matters if a reasonable person can tell. As long as there's plausible deniability on your (the writer's) behalf, you're in the clear. Oh hell no; that's not any kind of legal standard and if someone told you it was, check their jd. Sure, it gets a little shady from a moral perspective, but if you're not the type of person to be bothered by such things, then you really have nothing to worry about. Doesn't matter what kind of person you are. Judges rarely give a rat's ass. Using the generic disclaimer "The following is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to persons living or dead is purely coincidental" after the title page in your work will also go light years in covering your ass, That disclaimer is basically meaningless. should you ever need it to be covered. ;)

...
 

Brock Landers

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Man oh man! People on here really put the mods up on a pedestal, don't they? And the mods really don't like being told they're wrong, do they? I'm not an arguing on the internet type of person, especially when I know I'm right about something. I just wanted to offer my advice based on personal experience to the OP. So, OP, take it or leave it.

Here's a quick Edit, BTW. It doesn't get any more "high profile" or "real world" than this book was, and look how this turned out.

http://tuckermax.com/other/missvermont/
 
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Old Hack

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Man oh man! People on here really put the mods up on a pedestal, don't they? And the mods really don't like being told they're wrong, do they?

Brock, you need to read around AW a bit. You'll find that neither of those two statements are true. And I'm not posting in this thread to prove you wrong: I'm posting here because I don't want AW's members to be misled by your comments. There are a lot of good people here, and I'd hate for any of them to get into trouble because of something I didn't bother to refute.

I'm not an arguing on the internet type of person, especially when I know I'm right about something. I just wanted to offer my advice based on personal experience to the OP. So, OP, take it or leave it.

I really do appreciate you offering your experience, but from what I've been advised--by lawyers who work in this area, on more than one occasion--your opinions are wrong. You can easily prove yourself right by telling us more, giving us a few more details. What did your legal representation tell you? Did your case go to court? Were lawyers even involved? Or did you all rely on the legal advice your editor gave you? I'm not trying to put you on the spot here, but I would like to understand how it happened, because I don't see how it could have, based on what we know so far. It's possible you've missed out some essential information, which might make us all realise that you're justifiably frustrated here.

Here's a quick Edit, BTW. It doesn't get any more "high profile" or "real world" than this book was, and look how this turned out.

http://tuckermax.com/other/missvermont/

That link takes me to a page full of links. I don't have the time to read them all. Tell us about your case, and why you're so confident you're right. Give us a hand here.
 

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Man oh man! People on here really put the mods up on a pedestal, don't they? And the mods really don't like being told they're wrong, do they? I'm not an arguing on the internet type of person, especially when I know I'm right about something. I just wanted to offer my advice based on personal experience to the OP. So, OP, take it or leave it.

Here's a quick Edit, BTW. It doesn't get any more "high profile" or "real world" than this book was, and look how this turned out.

http://tuckermax.com/other/missvermont/

Mr. Landers:

The mods are modded in part because of expertise and experience.

You should read the The Newbie Guide to Absolute Write now, by the way.

The OP has had his question answered in some detail, and we're perilously close to having members who aren't attorneys offering legal advice, and that never works well.
 
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